Tag Archives: STS-51L

28 January 1986, 16:39:13 UTC, T+1:13.162

Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-51L) was launched from Launch Complex 39B, Kennedy Space Center, at 16:38 UTC, 28 January 1986. (Thom Baur/AP)

28 January 1986, 11:38:00 a.m. (EST): The Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-99) lifted off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Mission STS-51L.

At liftoff, an O-ring seal between segments of the right Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) began leaking. Superheated gases breached the seal and began to burn laterally.

“At 58.778 seconds into powered flight, a large flame plume is visible just above the SRB exhaust nozzle indicating a breach in the motor casing.” (NASA)

The venting rocket exhaust burned through the SRB attachment strut and into the liquid hydrogen tank in the lower section of the External Tank. The aft portion of the liquid hydrogen tank failed and drove the tank vertically upward into the liquid oxygen tank. Both tanks ruptured and the propellants detonated.

1 minute, 13 seconds after liftoff, Challenger was accelerating through Mach 1.62 (1,069 miles per hour, 1,720 kilometers per hour) at approximately 46,000 feet (14,020 meters) when the explosion of the external tank caused the space shuttle to suddenly veer away from its flight path. The shuttle was subjected to aerodynamic forces far beyond its design limits and it was torn apart.

Challenger’s external tank, containing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, exploded 1 minute 13 seconds after liftoff. The two solid rocket boosters flew off in different directions. (Bruce Weaver/AP)
Challenger’s external tank, containing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, exploded 1 minute 13 seconds after liftoff. The two solid rocket boosters flew off in different directions. (Bruce Weaver/AP)

The crew cabin, with its seven astronauts aboard, broke away from the disintegrating shuttle assembly and continued upward for another 25 seconds to approximately 65,000 feet (19,080 meters), then began a long fall to the ocean below.

2 minutes 45 seconds after the explosion, the cabin impacted the surface of the Atlantic Ocean at 207 miles per hour (333 kilometers per hour). The entire crew was killed.

The crew cabin of Space Shuttle Challenger is visible near the end of the smoke plume at the upper center of this photograph, still climbing at supersonic speed. (NASA)
The crew cabin of Space Shuttle Challenger is visible near the end of the smoke plume at the upper center of this photograph, still climbing at supersonic speed. (NASA)

I watched this terrible tragedy as it happened, live on television. I will never forget.

The explosion occurred 1 minute, 13 seconds after liftoff. (NASA)
The explosion occurred 1 minute, 13 seconds after liftoff. (NASA)

AD ASTRA PER ASPERA

Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51L Flight Crew. Front Row, left to right, Captain Michael J. Smith, U.S. Navy; Lieutenant Colonel Francis R. Scobee, U.S. Air Force; Ronald Ervin McNair. Back Row, left to right: Lieutenant Colonel Ellison S. Onizuka, U.S. Air Force; Sharon Christa McAuliffe; Gregory Bruce Jarvis; Judith Arlene Resnick. (NASA)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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